What's going on with these hackers and the city's venues...
News reached us here in the Finest office this morning that a well-known Manchester brunch spot’s social media channels have been hacked, and following high profile incidents on Instagram in recent months at other Manchester restaurants, I thought it valid to ask: What the hell is going on!?
First of all, this phenomenon certainly isn’t unique to Manchester, with Instagram increasingly becoming a target for hackers and spammers, mainly due to the sheer attractiveness of a platform that boasts a whopping 1 billion active users.
Last year saw Modern Family actress Sofia Vergara’s account hacked, with her platform being taken over and used to lure users to engage in a fake iPhone promotion.
At the time she had an astonishing 14.5 million followers – a truly monumental figure and certainly a lucrative target for anyone looking to appeal to a massive audience and make a quick buck at the same time.
Obviously there’s not many people in Manchester who have that many followers, but there’s plenty of Instagram accounts that have been tirelessly built up over the years to yield some pretty impressive followers and constant engagement – something hackers have found irresistible to resist in recent months.
When I mention the word ‘hacker’ it’s easy to envision a group of clandestine wizz kids wearing balaclavas whilst tapping away at a laptop like a terrible stock image. But that’s usually not the case at all.
People also just assume that it’s a group of Russians who are hacking accounts, which is actually quite common, but it could be anyone doing it and their motives are just as diverse.
Instagram has seen a massive influx in hacking and scamming in recent years due to the simple fact that Facebook, who own the platform, won’t delete the account as “fake”.
Facebook delete billions of fake accounts each year across their services, so if someone can get access to YOUR Instagram, which you’ve been using innocently for a few years, then the likelihood of Facebook deleting it is pretty much at a zero. Allowing hackers free reign to spread spam, propaganda, sell some shit or, as is the case recently in Manchester, extort the owners of the account for money.
We saw it most recently with the sandwich pop-up Bada Bing, who found their account hacked by a bunch of scumbags who then held the account to ransom, extorting money off the owners who were keen to keep their built-up followers and engaged users.
The people behind the highly successful sandwich concept received WhatsApp messages from the person who hacked the account, asking for $300 to have it returned. They complied, sending the money, but as is usually the case with these things – the hackers then demanded more.
When they were denied the money, the hackers deleted the account – losing Bada Bing not just 300 sheets but also over 10,000 followers and a platform in which to operate their business. As a result, they created a new accounts and then encouraged their former followers to re-follow.
They’ve now got their hacked account back, but they’re not getting that money back, or the time and effort it wasted.
It was a similar situation for Northern Soul Grilled Cheese back in December, as their Instagram page with nearly 30,000 followers was hacked and the owners were blackmailed by those responsible.
Instagram has become a valuable and necessary tool for most independent businesses nowadays, and these hackers know just how important it is to the people who own the platforms. The whole situation isn’t helped by Instagram themselves either, a company that is notoriously difficult to actually get hold of when something goes disastrously wrong.
There’s no phone number, no customer service and report a problem on the site and you’re usually faced with an automated bot reply. It seems that eventually the Bada Bing and Northern Soul teams got through to Instagram, but not nearly fast enough, especially when faced with losing your primary source of marketing and customer interaction.
So, if you’ve got an Instagram account that you want to protect – how can you keep it from these hackers? Well, the easiest and most secure way is to enable Two-Factor Authentication on your account, which will dramatically reduce the risk of anyone hacking into it.
I’ve done a bit of research and it’s not exactly difficult to hack social media accounts, especially if you’ve got a weak password. There are literally thousands of brute force scripts out there on the Internet, which can break into any account by using a set of key words and testing hundreds of common password combinations as a result.
Two Factor Authentication will stop this from being able to work, but as the security increases, the hackers find more and more ingenious ways to get your stuff and demand some money for it back.
It’s also a good idea to change your passwords regularily, and to make them as long and as complicated as you can. The more obscure, with more letters, numbers and symbols, the better. You might struggle to remember it but it’ll be worth it in the long run.
In the meantime, if a hack happens again in the city, the best thing you can do is immediately unfollow the hacked account and follow the new one – effectively losing the hackers their entire bargaining tool against the rightful owners.
Hopefully though, we won’t see a repeat of any of these hacking incidents in the city – and Instagram will work harder to protect the independent operators who rely on their platform to make money and get their amazing products and dishes to us.